Death of an opportunity always opens another. Such occurrence took place in a spot in between a Motel 6 and a Thrift Store in North Laurel where a former restaurant/bar perhaps resided – my lack of recollection only points to its nondescript existence. A couple of months ago, my BFF called me exuding about a new Taqueria in our “hood”. It was no surprise to me that such an eating establishment would open, as this is only a mere representation of the new make-up of the burgeoning Latino population in this township. With an anticipation for such cuisine, I paid Taqueria Los Primos a few visits to sample their offerings.
Walking into the wide space, one is confronted by a large order counter with a expansive menu displayed above. It can be daunting for the novice to the menu, but many visits to other authentic area Mexican restaurants prepared me in navigating this Latino cuisine. An order that such friend was raving about was Quesadillas. The stuffed tortillas arrived well-grilled with the right amount of char providing that smokey note. What it encased was a generous amount of Mexican mozzarella-like stringy cheese accompanying some chunks of cooked beef, and thankfully, not ground beef like in some establishments, which my friend was really enjoying his bite on this occasion. A similar order on another visit was a bit disappointing with the lack of char on the tortillas, and an overwhelming amount of cheese. Our drink orders during our many visits were the perfect thirst quenchers consisting of Jarritos (Mexican sodas made with real sugar and fruit essence), house-made Rice Milk (Horchata), Tamarind Water (Tamarindo), and Hibiscus Water (Jamaica). These non-bottled drinks were both tasting recently-made and the perfect balance of the ingredients along with the right amount of sugar without being cloyingly sweet. A healthier choice is fresh Carrot or Orange Juice made to order and tasting naturally sweet.
Flautas are popular in Mexican taquerias and I had to taste their version. My plate arrived with 4 stuffed crispy tacos inundated by a mound of toppings consisting of lettuce, tomato, sweet onions, all slathered with some crema (Mexican sour cream) and crumbled cheese, that hinted of both Parmesan and blue cheese. A bite into the first flauta caused me to pause. The crispy corn tortilla encased a chicken stuffing that was dry and stringy, an indication of overcooking or over-frying. The second roll fared much better and injected more assurance in this diner. The dark chicken meat was fairly moist and well seasoned, making each bite enjoyable especially with the different toppings that added more moisture and flavor. The side of refried beans was as good as it gets, tasting velvety smooth and properly seasoned, good enough to belie its true humble nature. A side order of Nopales, grilled cactus, was revelatory to me. The leathery paddles exuded some good char flavor along with its slightly bitter natural notes, and with a good squeeze of lime (all limes pieces were necessary), the acid made each strip quite enjoyable and palate provoking, this tasting different (and better in my mind) from the usual pickled version.
Along with the first dish above, my BFF had also raved about the tacos offered here. My order one day was made with Carnitas and the other Al Pastor. One bite into the Carnitas one blew me away instantly. The pieces of pork were perfectly seasoned and cooked while maintaining some of its moisture and porcine goodness. The highlight to these meaty bites was the skin cooked to a crisp that gave some crunchy interest and its amazing bacon-like goodness. The Al Pastor ones were fairly tasty with the thin slivers of seasoned meat made red with some coloring probably from the achiote seed. However, it lacked the burnt meat flavor that the former exuded. The topping of fresh pineapple was interesting that made these bites more intriguing. The side green and red chile sauces were more than adequate with the green one lending some spicy fruity acid flavors and the red one some salty smoky dried chili notes, both elevating these soft tortilla bites to another level.
A couple of stuffed sandwiches caught the eye of my companions. Burritos here come large and well-stuffed. My companion’s order was made with chicken, paired with rice, beans, and fresh elements of lettuce and tomato, all moistened by a light creamy sauce. He seemed content with this large bite despite the fact that he is not a fan of the starch fillers. Another companion’s order was from the large sandwich menu. His order was the Cubano, which is strange for a Mexican eatery. The behemoth bite came loaded with slices of grilled meat, grilled sliced sausage, a fried egg, and lightened by some sliced lettuce, and spiced by some pickled jalapeño slices. Not quite a traditional Cubano, but my friend had no real complaints except for its overwhelming size.
A couple of open-face dishes were also sampled. The first was Huarache, consisting of a crispy cornmeal cake slathered with the silky smooth refried beans (its name is attributed to its slipper-like appearance), topped with a choice protein and the usual suspects of toppings and flavors. What I enjoyed sampling in this dish for the first time was the corn flavor in the cake with its mealy texture, and the small chunks of grilled Cecina beef which tasted well-aged from its hanging after a marination of salt and lime juice. For a first-time, this dish hit the right notes for me. A friend’s order during one visit was Tostadas. It pretty much was the same make-up as the latter dish, but the base consisted of crispy tacos holding the elements together, topped by some perfectly ripe avocado. The refried bean on the crispy rounds unfortunately softened their crispiness quite quickly, which disappointed the eater. But the choice of the awesome Carnitas with its crispy skin helped my friend overlook this slight downfall.
My visits were made on the weekends, and I noticed that many customers ordered the Mexican perennial, Menudo. The bowl arrived with its achiote-stained red soup submerging big pieces of the stomach floating and chucks of bone. One taste of the soup revealed a tasty broth but there was a hit of funkiness from that part of the cow. The toppings contributed some onion sweetness and crunch, the cilantro herbaciousness, and good amount of lime fruit acid that helped to temper with off-notes in the soup. The pieces of offal were well cooked making them smooth and falling apart fairly easily in the mouth. However, after half way through this bowl, I had enough of this cut of meat even though I grew up eating it, albeit with a much smaller quantity. All in all, I appreciated this well-made bowl supposedly with its flavors strong enough to cure a severe hangover.
Everything about Taqueria Los Primos is puro mexicano, from the large Latino clientele that patronize this establishment on the weekends, to the Virgen de Guadalupe statue adorning the wall next to the jukebox pumping out loud ranchera music. But the star of this place is the uncompromising Mexican dishes that keeps beckoning the customers to return for more, especially the tacos made with that pork-heavenly Carnitas, to the Flautas (once passed the first awfully made one), to the other open-faced Tostadas and Huarache, and finally the rich sobering Menudo soup. Never mind the fairly large family crowds on the weekends and the sensory overload of music and sights (including the large screen showing Mexican fútbol). Once you start settling in with the food, the dishes will hit the spots and you feel all just fine right here.